Applying Pedagogical Principles to Digital History
In his paper, “Pedagogical Principles of Digital History,” Joshua Sternfeld writes about the pedagogical challenge for digital history, specifically, how do we accommodate for its inter-disciplinarity. The author reflects upon the pedagogical challenge for digital history, and argues that scholars and practitioners must familiarize themselves with new vocabulary. The author writes that given its collaborative nature, digital history requires a common language/set of theoretical principles that will allow disparate groups to talk with each other, including faculty members, IT, and librarians. The author discusses the conceptualization, implementation, and anecdotal assessment of an original graduate level course in digital history taught at UCLA.
The author states that three principles guided the courses conceptualization:
digital history works are representations – products of subjective decisions characterized as interpretation
academic and non academic productions with the unifying trait of historical evidence
evaluation requires a working grasp of relevant historiographical knowledge
The overall course objective was for students to be able to analyze contemporary digital historical representations, and followed the following pedagogical principles:
digital history pedagogy should provide students with the methodological means to interrogate digital historical works
as a result students should be able to build complex questions, and evaluate scholarship
Additionally, the following principles were used, in order to provide a working framework with which to teach digital history:
Digital historiography can direct students to approach digital historical works critically. Students should recognize that every decision (design and content) is part of interpretation.
The definition of digital historical interpretations - which can adapted within the parameters of a specific course
Analysis of digital historical representation requires historiographic knowledge, similar to the analysis of scholarly monographs
Because this particular course was teaching analysis rather than construction, the students were asked to participate in systematic and consistent analysis of various digital history projects.
The author states that digital history reminds us that no matter how experimental or radical a method may appear, it must satisfy evolving epistemological standards. Based on his experiences, he has the following recommendations for building a curriculum in digital history of digital humanites:
In the case of graduate education, faculty members must train a cohort of future history educators to be conversant in digital history, both in vocabulary and language, which must be developed in order to assess student progress in non-traditional forms of historical work. It must be remembered that state of access affects computational work. Additionally, it is important to train students in basic historical practices and terminology. Currently the number of instructors that are able to cover all bases are very low, and the author states that using co-instructors may be necessary: one departmental, one media savvy. Interdepartmental efforts could lead to more concerted curriculum development.
In the case of undergraduate education, some profs are abandoning the essay format. Student guidance is necessary to use the tools effectively. As with other historical practices, it is also important to teach students close reading, and higher order analysis.
In terms of overall academic programming, the author states that because time is a factor, and frequently, there is not enough time to cover numerous disciplinary areas, it is important to teach the digital alongside traditional theory.
In conclusion, the author states that digital history should communicate broader humanistic significance, that history teaching should infuse students with a critical inquisitive eye towards the past. He states that technology should not diminish this, but transform and enhance it.
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